Smoking ban may go before voters

One proposal would extend smoking ban to businesses where minors are allowed

Posted: Tuesday, April 20, 2004

The Juneau Assembly has moved toward asking voters whether to ban smoking in all public places, a direction that angered both bar owners and anti-smoking advocates Monday.

A Monday meeting marked the Assembly's first direction on the issue. The Assembly Committee of the Whole decided to craft two possible ordinances: one asking voters to decided whether to expand the Clean Indoor Air ordinance to all public places and another extending the current ban only into places where minors are allowed. Those include restaurants with bars and the bowling alley.

Advocates on both sides were hoping for decisive action from the Assembly.

Triangle Club owner Leeann Thomas said the public votes daily when deciding to patronize an establishment.

"Every day our public has the right to vote," she said. "If they don't like it, they don't come in."

Both sides are worried about losing in an election which city taxpayers would bear the cost of.

The tobacco industry is known for pouring money into elections to win support, said Cindy Spanyers of Alaskans For Tobacco-Free Kids.

The anti-smoking advocates will target the over-65 crowd and those 18-20, who are not allowed to drink, said Sandy Krook, a bartender at the Triangle.

Spanyers was pleased to see the Assembly addressing the issue of minors, but says it still doesn't curb the health effects of cigarette smoke in public places.

"Just because you turn 21 doesn't mean your lungs are protected from cigarette smoke," she said.

Assembly members were just as divided on the issue.

They debated all options including an all-out ban, maintaining the status quo, sending the issue to the public for a vote or banning smoking only in places that allow minors.

The issue is more about economics than bar owners' private rights, Mayor Bruce Botelho said. He suggested nonsmoking advocates pay for any business loss for one year if an all-out ban were passed. Currently smoking is allowed in stand-alone bars and some restaurant bars that were grandfathered under the current Clean Indoor Air ordinance.

Marc Wheeler was concerned about workers' rights - the main argument of the Juneau Clean Air Coalition that launched the smoking ban campaign.

"My heart goes out to the woman who's 20 years old and gets pregnant," Wheeler said, referring to her lack of possible job options.

Wheeler's comment provoked an outburst from some 50 ban opponents wearing red "Support Local Business" stickers. Committee of the Whole Chairman Jim Powell demanded order or warned he would end the meeting.

Any decision will be unpopular, said Jeannie Johnson, who said the public should decide at the ballot box.

"I was elected to make decisions, but I don't think I was elected to make this decision."

The Assembly voted 8-1 to draft the full-ban ordinance for the ballot. Assembly member Merrill Sanford voted against the language. The other ordinance was drafted on a 6-3 vote with Sanford, Jeannie Johnson and David Stone voting against.

The Assembly will decide later whether to approve either.

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